Ancient Monuments

History on the Ground

This site is entirely user-supported. See how you can help.

Mote Hill, palisaded settlement and cairn

A Scheduled Monument in Tillydrone/Seaton/Old Aberdeen, Aberdeen City

Approximate Location Map
Large Map »
Street or Overhead View
Contributor Photos »

If Google Street View is available, the image is from the best available vantage point looking, if possible, towards the location of the monument. Where it is not available, the satellite view is shown instead.

Coordinates

Latitude: 57.1706 / 57°10'14"N

Longitude: -2.1064 / 2°6'23"W

OS Eastings: 393664

OS Northings: 808866

OS Grid: NJ936088

Mapcode National: GBR SB8.WT

Mapcode Global: WH9QQ.M158

Entry Name: Mote Hill, palisaded settlement and cairn

Scheduled Date: 17 May 1933

Last Amended: 6 January 2009

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM1907

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: palisaded settlement; Prehistoric ritual and funerary: cairn (ty

Location: Aberdeen

County: Aberdeen City

Electoral Ward: Tillydrone/Seaton/Old Aberdeen

Traditional County: Aberdeenshire

Description

The monument comprises a prominent conical mound situated within Seaton Park in Aberdeen. The mound stands on the edge of a steep, NE-facing slope running down to the River Don, while the remaining approaches to the mound are open and relatively flat.

The base of the mound is approximately 30m in diameter while the summit is flat and oval-shaped measuring around 9m by 5m. The mound is approximately 7m high on the east and 5m on the west owing to the sloping ground. Archaeologists from Aberdeen City Council excavated parts of Mote Hill in 2002 and 2003 ahead of works to repair erosion and control the growth of vegetation.

Until recently, it was widely believed that Mote Hill was a motte, a medieval earthwork topped with a timber tower-work. As a result of recent excavations, however, we now know that Mote Hill dates to a much earlier period and there appears to have been no medieval period occupation of the site. The monument's current appearance is largely due to landscaping in the post-medieval period. During excavations archaeologists discovered evidence for an Iron-Age enclosed settlement that was situated on a lower, naturally occurring mound. This small settlement comprised a timber palisade and stone revetment that encircled the flat summit of the mound, where there may have been a single timber roundhouse and a small yard. Artefactual and radiocarbon dating indicates this site was occupied in the 2nd century AD. Evidence of earlier activity at this site was discovered at the heart of the mound where archaeologists revealed remains of a stone bank constructed using large slabs of granite, several over 1m long, 0.7m wide and 0.5m thick, with what may a facing of kerb stones. While only a small proportion of this structure was excavated, it has been suggested that the stone bank may be evidence of a ring cairn dating to the late-neolithic period or the Bronze Age. In the post-medieval period sand and gravel were added to Mote Hill, possibly for use as a beacon or observation post. Evidence of modern intervention was also discovered, with quarrying of sand and gravel in the late 19th or early 20th centuries and a flight of wooden steps cut into the side of the mound by the British army during World War II.

The area around the mound was subjected to geophysical survey following excavation with results indicating a series of what may be pits, ditches and wall foundations.

The area to be scheduled is a cropped circle on plan, to include the mound and an area around within which evidence for its construction and use may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument consists of a substantial mound containing buried deposits relating to what may be a neolithic or Bronze-Age ring cairn, an Iron-Age enclosed settlement and evidence of post-medieval period landscaping and possible use as a beacon or lookout post. Excavation of the mound has also demonstrated 19th- and 20th-century interventions, notably quarrying for sand and gravel and the addition of wooden steps in the early 1940s. A recent geophysical survey of the surrounding area identified what may be remains of ditches, pits and foundations of walls or structures close to the base of the mound. As the mound has lain within a designed landscape from around 1600 and has been subjected to relatively little modern intervention, the archaeological potential of Mote Hill is high.

The stone bank interpreted as a possible ring cairn is sealed within the core of Mote Hill and it is likely that further deposits are preserved in good condition. There is good potential that further remains of this structure survive within Mote Hill allowing a more definite interpretation of its purpose to be made. The stone bank may seal buried ground surfaces offering potential for the recovery of environmental evidence that could enhance our understanding of climatic conditions when the monument was constructed and used as well as dateable remains to aid our understanding of the structure.

The Iron-Age settlement comprises a palisade trench and a stone revetment around the mound, several post-holes, a stone hearth as well as carbonised deposits that have yielded a radiocarbon date in the 2nd century AD. These remains are sealed by layers of sand and gravel and the potential for further later prehistoric occupation evidence is anticipated to be high. Therefore Mote Hill has considerable potential to develop our understanding of Iron-Age settlement in the area, its characteristics and offer an illustration of the daily lives of those who occupied these sites.

The present height and profile of the mound are largely due to post-medieval remodelling, principally the addition of sand and gravel to raise its height. Seaton Park lay within an estate held by several families between the 17th and 20th centuries. This phase of the site has potential to inform our understanding of the development of the city of Aberdeen and Seaton estate as well as the modern use of the mound. There is potential for evidence relating to possible use of the mound as a beacon or observation platform.

Contextual characteristics

The monument provides an example of two monument types that are not well represented in the Strathdon area. The structure interpreted as a ring cairn falls within a group of 165 known prehistoric burial cairns in the Strathdon area. Only a small subset of this group can be positively identified as ring cairns as the open area of these monuments often becomes filled with collapsed cairn material or has been deliberately infilled in antiquity. Ring cairns may often only be recognised where there has been excavation or robbing, either in antiquity or in the more recent past. Typically, a ring cairn takes the form of a circular enclosure with an open court at the centre. The enclosure is defined by a stone bank with kerbstones lining its inner and outer faces. While preventing the slumping of the structure, kerbstones may have fulfilled more than a functional role as seen at the ring cairn at Sands of Forvie, excavated in 1954. As a group, the burials within ring cairns found in Strathdon are not well understood or documented as many sites were excavated in the 19th century and the associated reports often only supply brief descriptions of urns, cists and layers of blackened earth.

Enclosed settlements form a relatively small part of the pattern of later prehistoric settlement in the Strathdon area. In Aberdeen itself, later prehistoric settlement is poorly understood, enhancing the significance of Mote Hill. The overwhelming majority of known settlements in the Strathdon area are recorded as cropmarks and are concentrated along the Rivers Don and Urie with relatively few recorded in or around the city of Aberdeen, likely the result of several centuries of development. A small group of these cropmarks may be interpreted as palisaded enclosures although it is likely that others exist but have not been recognised or are sited in areas where soil conditions are not suited to the formation of well-defined cropmarks. This presents problems for developing an understanding of regional trends and variations. At Wardend of Durris near Banchory, excavated in 1988-9, archaeologists revealed a palisaded settlement occupied over a period of several hundred years from the latter half of the 1st millennium BC through to the early centuries of the 1st millennium AD.

The remodelling of Mote Hill in the post-medieval period may be associated with Seaton Park being part of Seaton Estate, owned and occupied by several related families between the 17th and early 20th centuries. It remains unclear whether Mote Hill served as a beacon or observation platform, but such a function is possible given that Aberdeen was an administrative, economic and religious centre. The city was targeted during several military campaigns in the Grampian region between 1400 and 1746 and the defences of the city are likely to have relied on signal beacons and lookouts to raise the alarm.

Overall, the juxtaposition of these monument types on a single site is highly unusual. This rarity, coupled with the fact that Mote Hill stands in the heart of Aberdeen, adds considerable weight to its significance.

Associative characteristics

The post-medieval beacon or look-out site may reflect measures taken to defend the city from attack in the 17th and 18th centuries. During the civil wars of the 1640s and 1650s, Aberdeen was captured and subsequently plundered for three days by the royalist army of the Marquis of Montrose, while in 1651 the city council surrendered unconditionally to the forces of Oliver Cromwell rather than risk attack. In 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart's Highland army entered Aberdeen to sail to Edinburgh, while in 1746 the Duke of Cumberland occupied the city while pursuing the Jacobites prior to the Battle of Culloden.

Mote Hill's situation within Seaton Park, a designed landscape and part of the former Seaton Estate, may have contributed to the preservation of the monument where it is likely to have formed a feature. The name Mote Hill betrays a former belief that this site was a motte, a medieval earthwork topped by a timber castle. Such an interpretation could be justified by its location on the edge of a steep, natural slope and proximity to St Machar's Cathedral, the heart of the medieval diocese of Aberdeen while the conical form of the mound is similar to other medieval mottes. The Ordnance Survey Object Name Book is one of the first authorities to suggest that Mote Hill was the site of a motte despite the lack of documentary evidence and the small area available on the summit.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to contribute to an understanding of the past, in particular the burial practices and funerary architecture of the neolithic and Bronze-Age periods as well as domestic settlement in the Iron Age.

The Bronze-Age burial site has, through skeletal remains and artefacts from such burials, the potential to tell us about wider prehistoric society, how people lived, where they came from and who they had contact with. The old ground surfaces sealed by the monument can provide information about what the contemporary environment looked like and how it was being managed by the prehistoric farmers who buried their dead here.

The Iron-Age enclosed settlement is of national importance because it is an example of a type of monument that is rare in Aberdeenshire and only a small number of such sites remain upstanding. The monument has the potential to further inform us of the construction techniques, defences and domestic life of an Iron-Age homestead. A marked concentration of enclosed settlements along the course of the River Don may relate to the importance of Donside in the Iron Age. The good preservation and the survival of dateable archaeological deposits further enhances this potential. Consequently the loss of, or damage to, the monument would significantly diminish the capacity of the class to contribute to our understanding of the development of later prehistoric architecture, society, economy in Scotland in general and the prehistory of Strathdon and Aberdeen in particular.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS record the site as Tillydrone, Mound, NJ90NW 8. Aberdeen City Council Sites and Monuments Record records the site as Tillydrone, 'motte', NJ90NW 0020.

References:

Cameron A 2002, 'Tillydrone Motte, Aberdeen City (Aberdeen parish), motte; saddle quern', DISCOVERY EXCAV SCOT 2002, 7.

RCAHMS 2007, IN THE SHADOW OF BENNACHIE: THE FIELD ARCHAEOLOGY OF DONSIDE, ABERDEENSHIRE, Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Russell-White C J 1995, 'The excavation of a Neolithic and Iron Age settlement at Wardend of Durris, Aberdeenshire', PROC SOC ANTIQ SCOT 125, 9-27.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Other nearby scheduled monuments

AncientMonuments.uk is an independent online resource and is not associated with any government department. All government data published here is used under licence. Please do not contact AncientMonuments.uk for any queries related to any individual ancient or schedued monument, planning permission related to scheduled monuments or the scheduling process itself.

AncientMonuments.uk is a Good Stuff website.